Our Community Coordinator reflects on the mission and identity of L’Arche and how we share that together around the world.
L’Arche began as one community in the mid ‘60s in a small French village. By 2002 it was a very spread out and diverse movement of communities across the globe; L’Arche thus recognized that there was a need for unity around a common vision. For this reason a 3 year discernment process involving all communities across the world was launched, with an international reflection group gathering all this input. This process clarified the Identity and Mission we share as L’Arche communities, helping to put words to our experience.
Let’s delve more deeply into this, touching on who we are (our identity), what we stand for (our mission) and how we seek to live that.
Our identity as individuals - who we are - is a reality that is both individual and profoundly relational. Not only are we generated through our parents, nurtured by loving relationships, and sustained by elements that come from outside ourselves, but most fundamentally we are God’s beloved ones.
Often, however, we speak of identity in individualistic tones, focusing solely on specific traits or characteristics our person might have. This is limiting.
Our Identity: Who We Are
Our identity as L’Arche is relational too. As communities of belonging across the world, we (persons with and without intellectual disabilities) enter into relationship with one other, celebrating each other’s value and recognizing that -in life- we can’t do it alone; we need others.
Our community identity is therefore about who we are as a community. It is primarily about being, not about doing. It is a sacred gift to be received, not a project to be created.
Our Mission: What We Want
Our mission - what we stand for and what we seek to engage in – flows from our identity. Making known the gifts of persons with disabilities, building a more human society, and fostering an environment inspired by our core founding values that responds to our changing needs, are all ways in which we express our mission, which flows from our identity.
Both Identity and Mission are shared across all the L’Arche communities in the world, but are also expressed uniquely in each different community.
In day-to-day life L’Arche communities seek to live their shared Identity and Mission in different ways. This is the level of projects. Projects can include housing questions, internal structure issues, how certain things are done, etc. The level of projects is not sacred, and should not be made into an absolute. Projects can thus change.
It is interesting to note that disagreement in communities often happen at the level of projects; it is thus important to realize that at a deeper level we can share who we are (Identity) and what we stand for (Mission) while remaining flexible to the changing and different ways in how we live that (projects).
The Future : Friendship
Special thanks to the Identity & Mission formation group in Trosly-Breuil I had the privilege of being part of earlier this year. A lot of this article is the fruit of the formation and reflections that have sprung from that time together.
When asked what his hope for the future of L’Arche was, Jean Vanier pinpointed to people without and with disabilities continuing to become friends. Indeed, after all, L’Arche is fundamentally about becoming a friend.
(This article was in our Summer 2015 issue of Two by Two, our twice a year publication highlighting the L'Arche Life in Chicago. Don't get the Two by Two? Subscribe today to have it delivered right to your door twice a year.)